Lucie Dreyfus and Her Fight for Her Husband

The personal letters Lucie Dreyfus sent to her husband Alfred and the extensive correspondence she conducted with the authorities reveal the tremendous efforts she exerted and the personal aspect of one of the most notorious anti-Semitic affairs in history.

Lucie and Pierre Dreyfus, a photograph from 1891. The Dreyfus Family Collection

On October 15, 1895, Alfred Dreyfus, an officer with the rank of captain in the French General Staff, was asked to report to headquarters at nine in the morning in civilian clothing for “an examination of the trainee officers”. Despite the puzzling request, the captain remained unperturbed and parted from his family as he did regularly. It was a pleasant morning, and his three year old son Pierre insisted on escorting him to the front door. The memory of this parting, Dreyfus later wrote in his memoirs, is what helped him cope with everything the following years sent his way.

Colonel du Paty de Clam, who was sent to question Dreyfus, wasted no time and dictated a document to the captain under express orders that he “be fastidious with his writing”. At the end of the dictation, the colonel rose wildly from his chair and declared “I arrest you in the name of the law, you are accused of a serious crime of treason.” Dreyfus was imprisoned in a military jail and was forbidden to contact his family.

“The Martyr”, Graphic (an illustrated weekly newspaper), London 1899. From the National Library collections

During a period of increasing national paranoia – a period in which the French Republic was rife with rumors and reports of treason and the sale of secrets to the German arch enemy – the suitable scapegoat had been found in Alfred Dreyfus.

When a secret document containing a series of military secrets was found being offered for sale, suspicion fell on Dreyfus, the only Jewish officer on the French General Staff. At the end of a short military trial he was convicted of treason and sent to lifelong exile on Devil’s Island, which is close to the shores of French Guiana in South America.

The story did not end there. Before being sent to Devil’s Island, the astounded Dreyfus was forced to undergo a terrible ceremony of degradation in which he was denounced as a traitor to the Republic. During the ceremony, which was held in the courtyard of the military school in Paris, he was stripped of all his ranks, his sword was taken from him and broken and the furious crowd which had gathered screamed anti-Semitic expletives at him.

Despite the drastic deterioration in his physical and mental health during his time in jail, until his dying day, Drefus refused to believe that it was hidden anti-Semitism in the army which led to his terrible ordeal.

Alfred Dreyfus, stripped of his ranks, Le Petite Journal, January 13, 1895. From the National Library’s collections

Upon his arrest, he was given the opportunity to choose the only “honorable way out” in such cases – a loaded revolver was placed in his cell to enable him to take his own life. To the jailers’ great surprise, Dreyfus refused to make use of the revolver and continued to protest his innocence. From the moment he was denied his freedom and his personal dignity, Dreyfus’ family decided to serve as his mouthpiece and worked tirelessly for his acquittal.

While his brother Mathieu acted within legal and diplomatic channels to obtain a re-trial and acquittal for his older brother, Lucie Dreyfus – Alfred’s beloved young wife – decided to invest all her energy into improving the new prisoner’s living conditions.

She sent him letters regularly, in which she updated her husband about their children, his brother’s tireless efforts for his acquittal, and of course, offered him words of encouragement and compassion. In a letter sent on January 16, 1895, Lucie wrote worriedly: “How are you my poor beloved, do you not feel weak because of the prison regime, you, who are in such need of fresh air and movement?”

Lucie’s letter to her husband, Paris, January 16, 1895. From the Dreyfus Family Archive at the National Library of Israel

It can be assumed that she was aware of the conditions in which her husband was imprisoned, and that she knew Dreyfus spent his five years on Devil’s Island living in a filthy shack. Temperatures sometimes reached 120 degrees fahrenheit. No amount of pleading from her would have changed the basic circumstances of his imprisonment, and therefore she tried to ease his lot in different ways. She conducted extensive correspondence with the Ministry of the Colonies, which was responsible for prisoners such as her husband.

On July 2, 1895 she received a reply: “Madame, you contacted our offices in order to receive permission to send fifty bottles of condensed milk to your husband (…) as according to law the exile Dreyfus has the right to take care of his needs and his food at his own expense, I do not oppose you sending these food products directly to Guiana…”

A letter from the Ministry of the Colonies to Lucie Dreyfus, July 2, 1985. From the Dreyfus Family Archive at the National Library of Israel

Other letters which she sent and received from the Ministry of the Colonies prove how persistent Lucie was in her fight to improve her husband’s conditions. Documentation from the archive reveals that Lucie received a letter from the Minister of the Colonies himself, André Lebon, informing her that he rejected several books she sent to her husband under the pretext that their pages were not properly cut.

Letter from the Minister of the Colonies to Lucie Dreyfus, May 5, 1896. From the Dreyfus Family Archive at the National Library of Israel

Resourceful Lucie found a solution, and in a later letter the director of the prison informed her that all the travelogue books she sent to her husband were approved and  passed on to the prisoner.

In 1899, the pro-Dreyfus coalition (known as the “Dreyfusards”) succeeded in securing a re-trial for the convicted officer. When Dreyfus was informed about the re-trial, he immediately sent a moving letter to his wife’s parents – the Hadamards – in which he expresses deep gratitude to their daughter for her support, support without which he would not have survived the grueling period of imprisonment. Why did Dreyfus send the letter to Lucie’s parents? The opening lines provide a clear answer: “If my letter should reach you before my return to France,” he writes to Lucie’s parents, “I ask that you hug Lucie and our dear children on my behalf, in anticipation of the overwhelming joy yet to be felt when I hold them in my arms, and when I will finally be able to help Lucie forget the long years of terrible suffering through a peaceful and happy life.”

The letter Alfred Dreyfus sent to Lucie’s parents. Iles de Salut, June 4, 1899. From the Dreyfus Family Archive at the National Library of Israel

The military tribunal which convened to review Dreyfus’ case found the accused guilty once again, this time of less severe treason, and he was sentenced to ten years in prison. The legal battle originally seemed to have been a further defeat for his supporters (led by Mathieu and other relatives). However, a month after the verdict, the President of the Republic pardoned Dreyfus – on the condition that he confess to his crime. Due to the heavy pressure exerted on him by Mathieu and his many other supporters, he reluctantly confessed. As soon as he was released he began to take action to obtain complete exoneration from any suspicion of treason.

The pain in confessing to the most despicable act a soldier in the service of the Republic could commit, as Dreyfus himself saw it, was dimmed only by the reunion with his wife and children.

The military establishment refused to recognize his innocence, and it was only in 1906, after a long trial, that the judge ruled that all the evidence and claims against Dreyfus were not credible and issued a final ruling exonerating Alfred Dreyfus of any guilt. Despite Dreyfus’ desire to return to the army, his poor state of health (the result of prolonged imprisonment in sub-human conditions) prevented him from continuing to serve the Republic. He was released from all military service a year later. He returned to the army during the First World War and stood by the Republic during one of the most brutal wars in history.

Alfred Dreyfus passed away in 1935, 29 years after receiving the presidential pardon and his freedom.

In 1975, Jeanne Dreyfus-Levi, Alfred and Lucie’s daughter, decided to transfer part of the Dreyfus Family Archive to the National Library of Israel. Out of feelings of closeness and affection for the State of Israel and the Jewish people, she ensured that the most personal and moving family letters dealing with the Dreyfus affair be transferred to the Library.

Alfred and Lucie Dreyfus in their later years. From the Dreyfus Family Archive at the National Library of Israel

The article was written with the generous assistance of Dr. Betty Halpern-Gadez of the National Library of Israel’s Archives Department.

Ephraim Moshe Lilien: “The First Zionist Artist”

According to E.M. Lilien, Zionism would be the art of the new Jews through which the new Jews would represent themselves.

Ephraim Moshe Lilien at his desk, 1902. From the Schwadron Portrait Collection

In December 1901 the art nouveau artist Ephraim Moshe Lilien joined his compatriots in the Fifth Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland. There, he became part of an art revolution. Lilien, along with the Democratic Faction led by Martin Buber and Chaim Weizmann, called on the World Zionist Organization to adopt a program of Hebrew culture and a greater degree of democracy within the organization

At the Fifth Zionist Congress, 1901. Theodor Herzl can be seen in the center along with other Zionist who’s who of the day. E.M. Lilien is sitting on the floor on the bottom right. From the National Library’s Photography Collection

One of Lilien’s most famous pieces of art was the Jewish National Fund (קק”ל) emblem and logo which you can see below. The Fifth Zionist Congress’ most memorable accomplishment was the establishment of the Jewish National Fund.

Jewish National Fund postcard, ca. 1901,Warsaw Levanon Company

Lilien’s friendship with Martin Buber enabled his art to become not merely Jewish, or nor be an artist with who worked with Jewish themes, but to be a Zionist artist and thus part of a movement that was not merely political and social, but cultural as well.

The illustration Lilien created for the Fifth Zionist Congress, 1901-02. Warsaw Levanon Company. From the National Library’s Postcard Collection

Lilen’s part in the art revolution began he attended the Fifth Zionist Congress. Born in Drohobycz, Galicia (now Ukraine) in 1874. By 1889 Lilien went on to study painting and graphic techniques at the Academy of Arts in Kraków until 1893. It was during that time that Lilien studied under the painter Jan Matejko, considered one of Poland’s greatest historical painters  from 1890 to 1892. Initially his art wasn’t specifically Zionist; at least he didn’t think so. But in 1900 he published his first major art project: He illustrated biblical scenes and Jewish images in the book “Juda, ballads of Börries von Münchhausen”, which is, ironically enough, a Christian retelling of the bible

Dancing in Ancient Israel, an illustration from “Juda”, 1900, reproduced on a postcard published by Charlottenburg

He didn’t shy away from contemporary Jewish issues in his art.  When the Yiddish poet Morris Rosenfeld’s book, “Poems from the Ghetto”, was translated into German, he was commissioned to illustrate it for the German audience. He very seriously and diligently illustrated the suffering of the Jews as they migrated from one form of poverty in Eastern Europe to another in America, where the majority of immigrants became peddlers or sweatshop workers exploited by factory managers.

Eternal Vagabonds, ca. 1903, Warsaw Levanon Company. From the National Library’s Postcard Collection

In 1903 the Russian persecution of the Jews came to a head during the Kishinev Pogroms. The Russian Empire’s oppression of Jews made it clear to Lilien that anti-Semitism had to be fought both politically and culturally and that the victims had to be honored.

“In Honor of the Sanctified Dead of Kishinev”, ca. 1903. Of Maxim Gorkis Zbornik, Berlin. From the National Library’s Postcard Collection

It seemed that Lilien decided that art would be the gentle sledgehammer with which Jews would break the chains of the Diaspora. And the art of the new Jew would represent the new Jew. The illustration below shows the tension between the opposing forces of the Jewish world at the time. One line shows religious, traditional Jews moving backwards, whereas the other line shows modern, muscular Jews moving forwards towards the horizon.

Father and Son, ca. 1904. Verlag Zion, Wien. From the National Library’s Postcard Collection

Lilien went on several expeditions to the Land of Israel on behalf of the World Zionist Organization. One of these expeditions was with Boris Schatz in 1906, when they established the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, the emblem of which is Lilien’s design. Lilien also taught the school’s first class in 1906. Lilien didn’t stay at Bezalel or in the Land of Israel after that first year. He returned to Berlin in 1907, but continued to visit the Land of Israel periodically until 1918.

The Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design emblem

Lilien died in Germany in 1925 at the age of 51. A street in Jerusalem is named for him.

E.M. Lilien in his studio in Berlin, ca. 1910. From the Schwadron Portrait Collection

Information for the article gathered from The Art and Artists of the Fifth Zionist Congress, 1901 and Zionism and the Creation of a New Society.

The article was written with the help of Dr. Gil Weissblei.

All illustrations are by E.M. Lilien.


The German Martin and the Jewish Mordechai: When Buber and Heidegger Met in 1957

Hidden away in the Mordechai "Martin" Buber’s archives is a series of photographs in an envelope, labeled: “unidentified.” Why was the evidence of a friendly meeting between Buber and Martin Heidegger downplayed?

A photograph of the participants in the meeting. Front center: Heidegger and Buber

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, became a controversial figure after WWII. Heidegger was among the most prominent of the many German intellectuals who collaborated with the Nazi regime during the Third Reich, or at least, identified with it and took no position against it. As an original and seminal thinker who placed human experience at the center of his thought and viewed humanity as the supreme cause of everything, Heidegger had a profound influence on Jewish intellectuals of his day, mainly among German Jewry.

Marin Heidegger to the right of Martin Buber, 1957. The Martin Buber Archive in the National Library of Israel

Heidegger was an outstanding student of the German-Jewish philosopher Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, and with the latter’s retirement in 1928, was selected to replace him at the University of Freiburg. His most important book, Being and Time (Sein und Zeit), published in 1927, was dedicated with admiration to his teacher Edmund Husserl, even though in effect, the book took a stand against some of Husserl’s foundational assumptions, and some viewed this dedication as a key to understanding the deep and complex relationship between two generations of philosophers.

In 1933, with the Nazi rise to power in Germany, Heidegger warmly welcomed their emergence. Just a few months after Hitler took over the national government, Heidegger officially joined the Nazi Socialist Party, and as a mark of distinction for this step, he was appointed rector of the University of Freiburg, a job from which he resigned after just one year of office. During that year, Heidegger took various steps intended to gratify the government, including various racially based attacks on Jewish colleagues.

One of the symbolic acts for which Heidegger was condemned and his reputation blackened as a Nazi collaborator was the directive to revoke the privileges of his elderly teacher, Husserl, as a Professor Emeritus at the University of Freiburg, due to his Jewish origins (even though Husserl had converted to Christianity). In the second edition of Being and Time, published in 1941, Heidegger, apparently under pressure from the publishers, removed the dedication to Husserl. Hannah Arendt, who was one of Heidegger’s best known students, and of whose intimate relationship with him much has been written, claimed that with this harsh attack of a student against his teacher, Heidegger hastened Husserl’s end, and even indirectly caused his death. Heidegger’s problematic relationship with Hitler and Nazism was even more clearly manifested by the way in which it percolated into his philosophical thought. His book Introduction to Metaphysics (Einführung in die Metaphysik), published in 1935, for example, included excerpts from a speech he delivered at the University of Freiburg in which he justified the supremacy of Hitler’s rule and the Third Reich.

After WWII, Heidegger was a pariah. The attempts to clear his name, – even by Jewish students such as Hannah Arendt – actually led to a reverse result. His philosophy, like his personality, was considered an abomination among many within and outside of Germany. The connection between him and Martin Buber after the Shoah therefore seems impossible, even for a liberal person such as Buber, who preceded many in his forgiving approach to Germany and the Germans. In Martin Buber’s biography by Maurice Friedman, Friedman quotes Buber’s writings, according to which “Heidegger the man was much more, in my view, than his writings.” Elsewhere, Buber is quoted as saying that all he had to state in condemnation of Heidegger had already been written when it happened, and therefore, there was no point in revisiting past events. However, Buber never related to Heidegger in his writings or public statements. Heidegger, for his part and quite surprisingly, testified in one of his interviews in the West-German media that he knew Buber’s name “from hearsay only,” and never knew him personally. At the same time, there is no doubt that Heidegger was very familiar with Buber’s writings, and even pressured the publisher of the festschrift in honor of his fiftieth birthday to approach Buber and ask him to translate an article for the volume. Buber refused, claiming that his failing health due to age prevented him from accommodating the request.

Buber and Heidegger by the coffee table. Second on the left: Martin Buber, second on the right: Martin Heidegger

Any mutual fear of public friendship and the fog surrounding the personal relations between the two evaporates in this series of photographs, which documents a friendly and warm meeting held in the late spring of 1957. With the picturesque Alps in the background, the two men met for two full days at the castle of Prince Albrecht von Schaumburg-Lippe, during which they discussed the preparation of an international conference on language (“Die Sprache”). The prince who hosted the two philosophers in his castle was the brother-in-law of Clemens Graf von Podewils, 1905-1978, who at the time was director of the Bavarian Academy of the Arts in Munich. Another partner in organizing the historical meeting between the German philosopher and the Jewish philosopher was Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, a physicist and philosopher of science in his own right, and the older brother of the president of West Germany elected in 1984. These two facilitators were organizing the conference under the auspices of the Bavarian Academy and wanted to summon Buber and Heidegger to a discussion on its content and goals. The meeting between the two was held, therefore, in a pleasant atmosphere, far from the public eye.

Buber conceded, according to the testimony of one of the participants, that immediately a bold friendship took hold between these two elderly men, who were unafraid of mocking the prejudices against Jews on the one hand, and against the Nazi rector on the other. In the photographs, the two can be seen smiling, and in a few of them, Paula Buber appears, sitting alongside her husband at one of their shared outdoor meals. Ultimately, due to Paula Buber’s sudden death just a few months later, Martin Buber cancelled his participation in the conference, and it was therefore not held as planned.

Martin Buber, 1946

The fascinating discussions between Buber and Heidegger at that historic meeting were recorded with characteristic fastidiousness and precision by von Weizsäcker, who understood the historical significance of this once in a lifetime dialogue. Blame, atonement and forgiveness were some of the topics discussed between the two, a Jewish philosopher of religion and a Christian philosopher who denounced religion, united to a great extent by their interest in the relationship between man and the Divine.

A personal dedication by Heidegger in his book about Hebel:

“To Martin Buber, with honest admiration, Martin Heidegger, Altreuthe, 29th May, 1957”

Romance and Reason: Islamic Transformations of the Classical Past

Organized by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World in partnership with the National Library of Israel (NLI), a stunning exhibition of Islamic manuscripts, including twenty-four from the NLI's own collections, is set to open in New York City.

Romance and Reason: Islamic Transformations of the Classical Past, opening on February 14, 2018 brings together an exceptional group of rare Islamic manuscripts that testify to the fertile relationship between medieval Islam and the classical world. Covering medicine, philosophy, the exact sciences and poetic retellings of the Alexander Romance in Persian and Turkish, the exhibition includes lavish illustrations of Alexander the Great’s adventures and intricate mathematical, astronomical, and medical diagrams.

Nicomachus, the father of Aristotle, teaching Iskandar while Aristotle looks on, “Khamsa”, Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209), India, 17th century. From the collections of The National Library of Israel / Photography by Ardon Bar-Hama

This exhibition provides an engrossing visual record of how, over the course of centuries, scholars, scientists, doctors, artists, and others in the Islamic world transformed ancient Greek material for their own day. Conceived and organized by ISAW in partnership with the National Library of Israel, Romance and Reason is curated by Roberta Casagrande-Kim, Research Associate, ISAW; Samuel Thrope, Selector, National Library of Israel, and Raquel Ukeles, Curator, National Library of Israel. Jennifer Y. Chi is curatorial and design manager for the project.

“This exhibition is an extraordinary opportunity for the Library. Including 24 manuscripts from the NLI’s Islam and Judaica collections, it is the largest exhibition of NLI manuscripts outside Israel, and the largest exhibition of our Islamic manuscripts ever,” said Raquel Ukeles, Curator of the National Library’s Islam and Middle East Collection. “Not only does Romance and Reason give us a chance to showcase some of the finest manuscripts from our Yahuda Collection to an international audience, it also allows us to build and strengthen relationships with leading cultural institutions in New York City and beyond.”


From about 750 CE to the end of the tenth century, Muslim translators, scholars, and commentators rendered a large portion of the extant classical Greek works of literature, science, philosophy, medicine, magic, and astronomy into Arabic. Seeking to learn from and make use of the knowledge the translations contained, these scholars expanded, updated, reimagined, corrected, and otherwise remade the documents to serve contemporary use.

In so doing, they shaped the intellectual contours of the Islamic world up to the dawn of modernity.

Romance and Reason opens a window into this fruitful interaction between Islam and the classical world with two thematic installations: one devoted to Islamic versions of the story of Alexander the Great, the other to scientific and mathematic topics.

Romance and Reason presents some thirty illuminated versions of the Persian accounts of the life of Alexander: the Shahnamah, or Book of Kings, an epic poem written by Abu al-Qasim Firdausi between 977 and 1010 CE, and the Khamsa, or Quintet, by Nizami Ganjavi, dating from the late 12th century CE. With a variety of exquisitely executed illuminations, the manuscripts in the exhibition were created over the course of five centuries. Together, they portray the evolution of Iskandar’s character and identity, showing him as warrior, king, seeker of truth, prophet, and more.

Iskandar and his retinue meeting with a hermit who then opens the gates of the Fortress of Darband by his prayer, “Khamsa”, Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209), India, 17th century. From the collections of The National Library of Israel / Photography by Ardon Bar-Hama

The second section of Romance and Reason is devoted to Islamic developments in medicine, mathematics, astrology, and astronomy, with manuscripts that illustrate the ways in which Muslim physicians, mathematicians, and scientists elaborated on their classical predecessors’ discoveries, transforming works of the past into materials of use in their own place and time.

For example, highlights of the exhibition’s especially rich assortment of medical materials include four 12th century manuscripts, all by different artists, illustrating vignettes from the Greek physician Dioscorides Pedanius’s De materia medica; as well as one of the most important medical works written by an Islamic scholar: The Canon of Medicine, by the physician and philosopher Avicenna (980-1037 CE). Avicenna’s work remained a major medical textbook until the nineteenth century, as important to the Islamic world as Hippocrates was to the Greeks.

Diagram of the Eye, “Revision of The Book of Optics for Those Possessing Sight and Insight by Ibn al-Haytham,” Kamal al-Din al-Farisi (1260–ca. 1320), Ottoman Turkey, 1511, From the collections of the National Library of Israel

The exhibition will run until May 13, 2018 and will be held at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, 15 East 84th St., New York, NY.